At 6 years old, Julian Williams-Goldberg probably could have fit into one of the 10 duffle bags his parents jammed with clothes and toys and piled into their old Mercedes wagon, along with their young family. They were heading cross-country from St. Paul, Minn., to Laguna Beach.
Packing some business equipment and memorabilia in boxes that were shipped, they arrived at the proverbial doorstep with practically nothing. “We sold everything we had,” said dad Daniel.
Williams-Goldberg and his wife Stefanie took a four-day research trip to southern California eight months earlier sans their three children. When they caught their first sight of Crystal Cove and Laguna, “our hearts just dropped,” he said. With good schools at the top of their list for prospective new hometowns, Daniel and Stefanie checked out 15 cities and nine schools. They showed up without notice at El Morro and Top of World elementary schools and were given the full tour by the principals. Their move to Laguna was sealed.
Julian, however, wasn’t having much to do with the new life adventure his parents planned.
While his two sisters and mom were thrilled about a year-round beach climate that didn’t stifle their outdoor activities during long, cold winters, there were a few times, said Williams-Goldberg, where the “men” in the family questioned the move. “For the first year, Julian was kind of like a shut-in,” Williams-Goldberg recalled. “He was pretty shy, didn’t make a lot of friends, really quiet and there were a few moments where he asked to move back. And honestly, so did I.”
Now, at 10, Julian’s size surpasses that of a duffle bag and he’s made impressive strides in acclimating to a new environment, experiencing first-hand what it means to be stoked.
“I just caught the bug,” explained the sun-bleached-blond, blue-eyed, angel-faced Julian. “It’s that feeling when you get a wave and you go down the face. You’re just stoked and thanking the Lord that he gave you all these great waves. There’s nothing more fun that I can think of.”
Picking up a surf board for the first time last summer, Julian quickly graduated from a soft board to a long board by the fall. “I’ll never forget after his first ride on a surfboard,” said his father. “You could see something in his eyes change. It was a passion I’ve never seen before. That fire in his eyes has never gone down. My perspective is he just loves the freedom of being on a wave, he loves the connection to the ocean.”
This summer, Julian competed with 40 other local elementary school-age surfers, winning his division of Laguna Surf and Sport’s Surf About, a 12-year proudly unofficial but professionally organized local contest.
Now Julian looks at surfing like a budding scientist, noting shifting peaks, turning tides, point breaks, beach breaks, changing currents, on- and offshore winds, even land-markers to see how he’s traveling. “Surfing’s a lot about having focus,” he said.
The El Morro fifth-grader is one of a new brood of young surfers, competitive but not aggressive, friendly on the waves. He’s also part of a new movement in the once-solitary sport. Surfing, explained Julian’s surfing coach, Chris Williams, a life-long surfer, is becoming a club sport where private lessons and team instruction give students stronger skills.
“Now, kids do all this training,” said Williams, who’s operated Soul Surfing, a surfing school, for almost 11 years. “We do surf practices where we work on maneuvers, like shredding and ripping.” There are now series of sanctioned club surf contests, said Williams, which also preps them for events with the National Scholastic Surfing Association during the school year. Julian, says his mom, has agreed to keep his grades up in exchange for surf lessons.
Of the 25 groms on his team, Williams said Julian shows impressive potential for going pro.
“The truth is,” he said, “out of our entire team, he is the one who really wants to be a professional surfer. He is the one who has the focus, the desire, the work ethic, the openness to understand how the path is charted, and he’s competitive. He’s got all the ingredients for his career to be significant. He’s got amazing body awareness. He’s a student. I would put high probability that he’s going to be a professional surfer.”
And he suits the new, friendlier surf scene perfectly.
“When you’re surfing, it’s a very territorial thing,” commented Williams. “It can get pretty vicious.” Williams said he promotes the golden rule. “Treat people the way you want to be treated and you will be having friends, more friends than you’ll know what to do with, because it’s attractive.”
Staying humble is important in the surf culture, adds Williams. To reinforce that ethic, every week Williams takes young surfers to Camp Pendleton to teach kids there how to ride soft boards. “To these Pendleton kids, Julian and all these kids are rad surfers,” he said.
Julian’s father, who owns an advertising agency in town, and his mother, a gymnastics coach, have given Julian the freedom to find what fulfills him. “It’s not just a sport for him,” said Mrs. Williams-Goldberg. “It’s a much deeper relationship. It’s given him guidance he hadn’t found before. He’s found friends, and the whole community has taught this kid how to surf. After we made it down to the beach, everything changed. It’s become a family thing.”
Adds her husband: “I think he’s just found his home.”